Six in Ten Americans Oppose White House Plan to Accept Up to 10,000 Syrian Refugees into U.S.

Similar numbers believe governors should have the right to prevent Syrian refugees from living in their state

Nov 24, 2015, 16:49 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Sixty-one percent of Americans oppose the Obama administration's plans to accept up to 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the next year, with 40% more specifically saying they strongly oppose the action. By comparison, four in ten (39%) support this plan, with 15% voicing strong support.

  • Nearly two-thirds of Independents (65%) and eight in ten Republicans (80%) oppose accepting these refugees onto our shores (with 57% of Republicans opposing it strongly), while six in ten Democrats (59%) support the decision.
  • Generationally, strong majorities of Gen X (67%), Baby Boomers (66%), and Matures (63%) oppose the effort; Millennials are more divided, with 52% opposed and 48% in support.

Additionally, nearly six in ten (58%) believe governors should have the right to prevent Syrian refugees from living in their state, a sentiment echoed by nearly eight in ten Republicans (78%), six in ten Independents (61%), and four in ten Democrats (39%).

These are the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,016 adults surveyed online between November 19 and 23, 2015. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

This is not the first time Americans have voiced opposition to allowing foreign refugees in into the United States in some manner. A 1980 ABC News/Harris Poll found over six in ten Americans (63%) supported then-new restrictions on Cuban immigration. In the 1970's, other Harris Polls found that nearly six in ten Americans (57%) were against a proposal to allow an additional 15,000 Indochinese refugees fleeing Communism into the United States and a 49% plurality were opposed to (vs. 37% in favor of) allowing 130,000 Vietnamese refugees to come to live in the United States. And just last week, results from a 1938 poll went viral, showing two-thirds of Americans (67%) opposed loosening immigration quotas to allow political refugees from Europe into the country.

Driving forces
In the wake of the attacks in Paris less than two weeks ago, fear may well be a top force driving public sentiment away from accepting these refugees. More than six in ten Americans (63%) agree with a sentiment expressed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in a letter to President Obama: that any Syrian refugee admitted to the U.S. could be connected to terrorism. Additionally, only half (51%) of Americans trust that Syrian refugees will go through a thorough screening process before being allowed to enter the United States.

  • Nearly eight in ten Republicans (78%) and two-thirds of Independents (67%) believe any Syrian refugee admitted to the U.S. could have terrorist ties, as do half (50%) of Democrats.
  • Turning to the vetting process, seven in ten Democrats (69%) trust that the refugees will go through a thorough screening process, as do nearly half of Independents (48%) and a third of Republicans (34%).

Give me your tired, your poor
A 54% majority of Americans agree that this country was built on the principle of being a place where oppressed people could come to live, and that Syrian refugees should not be an exception; nearly three-fourths of Democrats (73%) agree with this statement, as do half of Independents (49%) and 36% of Republicans.

However, the perception that human rights should be a central feature of our foreign policy has declined. Fifty-six percent of Americans support this statement, an eight point drop from 64% in 2014. Seven in ten Democrats support this point of view, as do a majority of Independents (54%) and 46% of Republicans.

Meanwhile, when asked for their opinions on whether the United States should volunteer to accept more than 10,000 Syrian refugees, a 35% minority (including 56% of Democrats) agrees the U.S. should, while a resounding 65% majority disagrees.

As to the "Christians-only" refugee policy Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have spoken in favor of, only two in ten Americans (21%) believe the U.S. should only accept refugees from the Middle East if they are Christian.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between November 19 and 13, 2015 among 2,016 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

The Harris Poll® #76, November 24, 2015
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®
Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world.  The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public.  New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly.  For more information, or to see other recent polls, visit us at

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